Julia WeeksComment

Pellets fired to quell protests blind hundreds of Kashmiris

Julia WeeksComment
Pellets fired to quell protests blind hundreds of Kashmiris

Indian authorities call the shotgun shells filled with hundreds of small metal pellets a "non-lethal" weapon for crowd control, but that does not make them harmless. They've inflicted a permanent toll on hundreds of Kashmiris hit by them.

Their faces are scarred. Their eyes are damaged or simply gone, replaced with prosthetics. And their psychological wounds run deeper still.

"What I miss most is being able to read the holy Quran," says Firdous Ahmad Dar, 25, a Kashmiri man who lost vision in both eyes after being shot with the pellets during an anti-India protest in the troubled Himalayan region.


In this Dec. 1, 2016 photo, Firdous Ahmas Dar poses for a portrait in the village of Sopore, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Firdous, 25, a Kashmiri man who like many others lost vision in both eyes after Indian troops used shotguns to spray hundreds of metal pellets to quell an anti-India protest in the troubled Himalayan region. "I was the only bread earner of the family. It was my time to look after my old parents and my siblings, but now they have to look after me." (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)


The pellets have been in use here since 2010. Soldiers are trained to fire the shotguns below protesters' waists, causing immense pain but — in theory — no permanent injuries. But a police official acknowledged that the rules are "more or less not followed because of the intensity of stone-throwing protests. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

The latest wave of protests began in early July after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic militant commander. As government troops cracked down on angry street protests in the Kashmir valley, shotguns were their weapon of choice.

Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes. Police and hospital officials say the pellets have killed at least eight people, though a prominent local rights group, Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, says the death toll from the pellets is 18.

International groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an end to the use of shotguns, which shower pellets widely. In July, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh cautioned security forces to minimize use of the weapons, but that warning had little apparent effect. As recently as last week, at least 30 people were injured when troops fired shotguns to quell rock-throwing protests.

Some of those injured were protesters, others just bystanders.

Insha Mushtaq Malik, 14, was standing by the window of her village home watching protesters and troops skirmish when more than 100 pellets hit her face. She lost both eyes.

"Everything looks dark and black," she says, as smiles and sadness take turns flitting across her face. Five months after she lost her eyes, Malik is still learning how to deal with her loss, both emotionally and practically. She needs help with everything, including climbing the stairs, going to the bathroom and getting dressed.


In this Nov. 29, 2016 photo, Insha Mushtaq Malik poses for a portrait inside her home in Sedow, south Kashmir. Insha says she was standing by the window of her village home watching protesters and troops skirmish when more than 100 pellets hit her face, "Everything looks dark and black." Five months after she lost her eyes. Malik is still learning how to deal with her loss, both emotionally and practically. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)


Photojournalist Xuhaib Maqbool ended up losing vision in his left eye as he shot images of protesters chanting anti-India slogans and demanding "azadi" — freedom from Indian rule.

He says he clearly raised his camera to show the soldier who shot at him that he was not a protester.

"I want to ask him why," he says.


In this Dec. 1, 2016 photo, Photojournalist Xuhaib Maqbool, 30, poses for a portrait in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Xuhaib ended up losing vision in his left eye as he shot images of protesters chanting anti-India slogans and demanding "azadi" or freedom from Indian rule. He says he clearly raised his camera to show the soldier who shot at him that he was not a protester. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)


A cycle of violence is repeating itself constantly in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Angry protests are quelled by force that in turn feeds more simmering rage.

But sometimes all it leaves behind is pain and helplessness.

For Dar, it means being completely dependent on the family he once supported by driving an autorickshaw.

"My dream was to educate my young siblings, but now they are helping me," he says.

The rest of his family is busy in the courtyard preparing for his sister's wedding. Dar now has no role to play. "Very old men are now looking after young men."


In this Nov. 29, 2016 photo, Abbas Ahmad Pandit poses for a portrait in the village of Karimabad, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pandit's right eye got severely damaged by pellet injuries during clashes with Indian security forces. Indian authorities began using shotguns for crowd control in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 2010, calling them “non-lethal” weapons that could control massive crowds of stone-throwing protests. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Nov. 29, 2016 photo, Suhail Ahmad Mir, 17, poses for a portrait in the village of Karimabad, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Suhail was wounded by metal pellets during one of the recent protests erupted in early July after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic militant commander. He lost eyesight in one eye and was left with scars all over his face. "My life has been ruined, what can I be now?" (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Nov. 29, 2016 photo, Faisal Ahmad poses for a portrait in the village of Karimabad, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Metal pellets shot by Indian security forces wounded Faisal during a raid in his village, losing eyesight on his left eye. The most recent protests erupted in early July after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic militant commander and sparked off more than five months of angry street protests in the Kashmir valley. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Nov. 30, 2016 photo, Tanveer poses for a portrait with his face partially covered, near Baramulla, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Tanveer lost eyesight on his right eye because metal pellet injuries. "I was an earning hand of my family. I feel like a living dead." he says. Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes.  (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Nov. 30, 2016 photo, Aamir Kabir Beigh poses for a portrait in the village near Baramulla, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Kabir lost his vision six years ago because metal pellet injuries. Indian authorities began using shotguns for crowd control in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 2010, calling them “non-lethal” weapons that could control massive crowds of stone-throwing protests. International groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an end to the use of shotguns. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Nov. 29, 2016 photo, Aamir Ashraf Hajam, 25, poses for a portrait in a village near Baramulla, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Aamir lost his right eye six years ago after India security forces used a shotgun loaded with metal pellets. Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Dec. 2, 2016 photo, Manzoor Ah-Dar poses for a portrait in Rahmoo, district of Pulwama, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Manzoor was injured in both eyes by metal pellets when Indian forces raided the village. Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes. International groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an end to the use of shotguns. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Dec. 1, 2016 photo, Danish Rajab Jhat, 24, poses for a portrait in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. "My left eye is completely damaged and with my right eye I can only see some sort of shadows, not clear vision." Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes. International groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an end to the use of shotguns.  (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Dec. 1, 2016 photo, Nasir Fayaz Mir, 16, poses for a portrait in Pattan, Indian-controlled Kashmir. The most recent protests erupted in early July after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic militant commander and sparked off more than five months of angry street protests in the Kashmir valley. Health officials say that in the past five months more than 6,000 people, mostly young men, have been injured by shotgun pellets, including hundreds blinded in one or both eyes. Nasir was wounded in July and lost eyesight in his right eye. He has to wear sunglasses to protect his damaged eyes from the light and the dust. "I felt as the whole universe turned dark." (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

In this Dec. 2, 2016 photo, Javed Ah-Dar poses for a portrait in Rahmoo, district of Pulwama, Indian-controlled Kashmir. The most recent protests erupted in early July after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a young and charismatic militant commander and sparked off more than five months of angry street protests in the Kashmir valley. Javed was injured in both eyes by metal pellets when Indian forces raided the village. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)


Text from AP news story, Pellets fired to quell protests blind hundreds of Kashmiris, by Bernat Armangue. 

Photos by Bernat Armangue

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